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'They despair'

Brian Taylor | 16:06 UK time, Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Sometimes nothing but poetry will do. Percy Bysshe Shelley indeed.

His poem Ozymandias describes an early grandiose construction project which has fallen on hard times.

According to Percy B., Ozymandias counsels: "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

He could have been talking about the Edinburgh trams - had Shelley condescended to deal with anything so mundane and costly.

Lots anent economic growth today: at Holyrood, at Westminster, in the joint ministerial committee.

But you will perhaps forgive me if I also pay heed to that trams project - which would appear to have stopped growing.

The latter is germane, I would argue, to the continuing debate over the former.
At Holyrood, the talk is whether and how the finance secretary's budget will enhance economic growth.

Serious scrutiny

John Swinney indicates that he will table changes to his proposals. Given that they will be blocked as they stand, that is eminent common sense.

At Westminster, the Scottish Select Committee takes evidence on the Scotland Bill from Sir Kenneth Calman (of the commission) and Jim Gallagher (the highly sagacious public servant who assisted the commission.)

Didn't catch all of it - but the bits I did hear amid other tasks sounded like serious scrutiny.

In the JMC, Alex Salmond and his devolved counterparts argue for capital investment to bolster economic recovery.

Each intriguing developments. Each substantive and significant. And I genuinely don't want to undermine such debate.

But alongside all of this is the standing reminder that public spending is not always productive - in the physical shape of that motionless tram, marooned in Edinburgh's Princes Street.

Not a penny more, says John Swinney. And one can understand his perspective, given that he and his party opposed the project and only succumbed to a joint Holyrood vote by rivals.

Bigger role

That was in the very earliest days of minority government when ministers were seeking to provide evidence that, far from ignoring the Holyrood arithmetic, they would bow before it on occasion.

Now Audit Scotland tells us in a report - first disclosed by my estimable colleague David Miller - that the project is in a less than healthy state.

Specifically, they want to see a "clear way ahead" - and suggest that the Scottish government might consider whether its agency Transport Scotland should play a bigger role.

Maybe it will all work out for the best.

Maybe it is like the Dublin transport project where everyone moaned for years - then, when it was finished, wondered how the city had survived without the change.

But right now the trams project is a standing embarrassment for Edinburgh, for Scotland and for public procurement.

It engenders cynicism.

Cynicisism which wells up when Audit Scotland notes that public confidence in the project is very low - and that the city council and project managers need to explain better to the public "how this complex project is progressing."

One can sympathise but my guess is that the public look on that static tram in Princes Street.

They survey the absence of construction.

They calculate, precisely, how much progress is being made. And, as in Shelley's poem, they despair.


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